G7 Leaders Issue Declaration Supporting Private Sector Implementation of Human Rights Due Diligence

Picture1At the conclusion of the G7 Summit held on June 7 and 8, the assembled leaders released a declaration endorsing the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Specifically, leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan stated that

We strongly support the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and welcome the efforts to set up substantive National Action Plans.

Notably, many governments around the world, including the United States, are in the process of developing National Action Plans addressing the responsibilities of business, including the responsibility to operate with respect for human rights. Of the countries represented in the G7, the United Kingdom and Italy have already released their plans.

The G7 Leaders’ Declaration also stated that:

In line with the U.N. Guiding Principles, we urge private sector implementation of human rights due diligence. We will take action to promote better working conditions by increasing transparency, promoting identification and prevention of risks and strengthening complaint mechanisms.

Specifically, the leaders stated that:

To enhance supply chain transparency and accountability, we encourage enterprises active or headquartered in our countries to implement due diligence procedures regarding their supply chains, e.g. voluntary due diligence plans or guides.

This focus on supply chain transparency is consistent with legislative and regulatory efforts in the United States and elsewhere to use disclosure mechanisms to highlight and address concerns regarding human rights issues in corporate supply chains and to require corporations to perform human rights due diligence. Examples include Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in the United States, which focuses on the sourcing of conflict minerals, and the U.K. Modern Slavery Act, passed earlier this year.

Civil society activists were quick to applaud the Leaders’ Declaration, with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR) stating that “G7 governments are to be commended for strong and assertive leadership in bringing this important agenda to the fore.”

To be sure, the statement by the G7 leaders is not binding. None of the assembled leaders made specific commitments with regard to private sector regulation. ICAR’s statement observed the non-binding nature of the declaration and declared that the G7 must now “walk the talk and stick to these commitments on the global stage.”

That said, the declaration is notable in that it highlights the normative strength of the U.N. Guiding Principles as a framework upon which policy leaders have come to rely in setting forth legislative and regulatory agendas. There is much room to debate the merits of specific implementation efforts, but the concept of human rights due diligence has gained broad international acceptance.

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